Why Putting Your Shoulders Back Won’t Give You Good Posture

There’s a reason why your posture has never permanently corrected itself as a result of someone barking at you to change it.  Actually, there are two reasons.

The first one is that putting your shoulders back only addresses the symptoms (appearance) of poor posture.  It’s the equivalent of putting a fresh coat of paint on a house that is in disrepair.  It makes the problem look better, but it doesn’t actually address it. Posture is a full body activity.  Want the basics of how to align the body, check out this awesome video from Katy Bowman.


Let’s pretend though, that putting your shoulders back were all you needed to do in order to have good posture. Now, when someone tells you “put your shoulders back, you’re slouching!”—do you think that will enable you to have good posture the rest of your life? Of course not, and this leads to the second point. Your posture is habitual.


This means that, even if you know how to create good posture (you’ve watched Katy’s video), you’re still going to have to break a habit in order to obtain that posture on a regular basis. To be a bit more scientific, you’ll need to build a new, facilitated pattern.

Facilitation basically means, the more you use a combination of neuronal firing, the easier it becomes to use that combination.  Think of muscle memory.  Suppose you walk into your kitchen, and the first switch on the wall controls the light and the second switch controls the garbage disposal.  You’d become pretty accustomed to hitting the light switch without having to consciously give it much thought (energy expenditure).  But now, you’re house sitting for a friend, and their switches are reversed.  How many times do you routinely/accidently flip the wrong switch and hear the abrupt sound of the garbage disposal when you wanted light?

Back on track, what on earth does this have to do with posture? It’s all about how to actually change it and maintain it with minimal thinking required. Instead of depending on a spontaneous “I should check my posture’ thought to pop into your head, you might find reminders are easier to integrate into your day to day.

For example:

My favorite reminder is pain.  That might sound odd, but pain is a great reminder to check on my body’s positioning because it offers a pretty good incentive to move/adjust my body (decrease the pain).  My thought process goes as such: ‘My hip is beginning to hurt; oh … I guess I am standing mostly on my right leg, let me shift back to a more equal stance.’ When the hip pain reoccurs, it’s a good reminder to check in and see if I’m putting all of my weight back on my right foot again and readjust. Using pain as my reminder is a good starting point.

If I want to up the number of reminders I get, I try to pick something else that is reoccurring.  Perhaps on my commute, I’ll use getting stuck at a red light as a reminder to check in on my posture again while sitting.  Is one hip shifted forward, or am I leaning more to one side than the other?

It isn’t about having perfect posture suddenly and maintaining it for a lifetime. It’s about reminding yourself that the light switches are in a different order until you no longer need the sound of the garbage disposal (pain) as a reminder.

Want to learn more about the shoulders? Check out my educational blog post:

The 3 Habits That Might Be Contributing to Your Shoulder Pain